News trickles in that chef Claudio Aprile’s business partner at Colborne Lane, due to open in November, is none other than the extremely busy Hanif Harji, whose most recent enterprise, Kultura, opened officially two weeks ago. Assisting with Colborne Lane’s debut will be manager Terry Hughes and sommelier Kim Cyr, both of whom are currently resident at Kultura, along with veteran front-of-house guy and sommelier Kevin Wallace. Hughes and Wallace were also involved with the birth of Doku 15 earlier this year—that project the brainchild of Zark Fatah, who combined with Hanif Harji on Blowfish. Are you following this? I guess the point is that Harji and Fatah seem to be involved with a good many very cool restaurant-lounges these days and that Hughes et alia are the go-to guys if you want your new place to hit the ground running.
Kultura is lots of fun. The building (on King West, four doors east of Jarvis (or if you navigate as I do, two doors west of Hiro Sushi)) is probably the oldest retail space in Toronto and the designers have done an admirable job of preserving the form and structure of the property. The restaurant is on the second floor—two soaring rooms of ancient brick and dark wood floors: the plain wooden tables give an almost refrectory feel while a long canvas of trees in winter provides a needed suggestion of air.
Chef Roger Mooking has assembled a menu of small “global cuisine” dishes intended for sharing, reasonably priced from $6 to $14. I know, I know, alarm bells are ringing faintly. Global cuisine so often means chicken or shrimp soused in an inappropriate mix of citrus, chili and soy with a side of curried whatever. Condiment cooking, if you will. And no one has yet been able to explain to me why smaller-than-usual dishes are meant to be shared. Doesn’t it make more sense to share larger dishes? Trying to divide two shrimps between three people can only lead to sulking and bitter rebuke. I asked the waiter how many dishes he recommended per person and he said four or five… So the three of us ordered the entire menu. Kim Cyr brought us the delicious house cocktail—a hybrid julep of bourbon, mint, caramelized lime and Champagne and we set to.
You know what? It was good. A couple of times the flavour of the principal ingredient got smothered by its interpol garnishes, but most dishes were well-balanced successes. Tiny samosas of minced chicken, asiago and sage were the ultimate crunchy, bite-sized crowd-pleasers. Jerk chicken breast (mildly spiced) was a juicy triumph and a thickly sliced pork chop, cured in Szechuan cider (I forgot to ask about that) was beautifully matched with a gentle harissa. All around us, the beautiful people were oohing and ahing at the cleverness of it all. Kim Cyr’s wine list—about 50 delectably unusual, food-friendly bottles with all but the big-ticket bubblies available by the glass—deserves serious exploration.
In other news, a bulletin from Patrick MacMurray at Starfish alerts me to a rare gathering of world champion oyster shuckers at St. Lawrence Market on Wednesday, September 13, from 6:00 to 10:00 p.m. $125 gets you masses of Galway and Malpeque oysters, Guinness and Champagne, a chance to see Irish dancing and to watch the different shucking techniques of two Swedish world champions, the 2005 European and All Ireland champion and MacMurray himself, all wrist deep in the bounty of the deep. The event is a fundraiser for the Ireland Park Foundation. Call 416-622-7773 for reservations.